Helen Marya Ryan never ran for office or graced the cover of a magazine, but she will always be known as a loyal and hardworking individual, respected and loved by the Walled Lake community.
Affectionately dubbed the “Paint Lady” at Melvin’s Hardware, where she worked for over 40 years, Ryan quietly passed away in her sleep on June 10.
She was 84.
Ryan first began working in the hardware business at Fitzgerald’s, Melvin’s predecessor. When the Melvin family took over the business in 1972, they inherited Ryan as an employee. In no time, she became part of the family.
“I’ve known her my entire life — she was like a second grandma to me,” said Melvin’s office manager Stacy Madsen, who is the third generation of the Melvin family to help run the business. “My grandparents had so much respect for her and the customers loved her.”
Ryan was a “jack of all trades” at Melvin’s. She ran the Paint Department, but could be called upon for just about anything.
“She was a fountain of knowledge,” Madsen said. “She was a character who made you laugh while keeping you in line, a mother hen of sorts.
Ryan, an extrovert by nature, was known for her charismatic personality that demanded respect.
“She was highly respected in the community,” Madsen said.
One of Ryan’s hobbies was collecting “wheat” pennies from the 1960s and 1970s.
“My two little boys loved Helen and rolled some of the pennies for her to be placed in her coffin, but it was her wishes not to have a service,” Madsen said.
Ryan was born on Sept. 16, 1926 in Braddock, Penn. She is survived by her son, Chester, and his wife, Mary, Ryan; son Russell Ryan; granddaughter Cheri (Ty) Pierce; and great grandchildren Peyton and Garrett Pierce.
“There has been such an outpouring by the community,” Madsen said. “She was a wonderful lady.”